Hammarica.com Daily DJ Interview: Octave One
The Burden Brothers also known as Octave One have been rocking the international techno scene with their stunning live performances for many years. Aside of that they’re known for their label 430 West which released classics such as their own Blackwater and DJ Rolando’s Knight Of The Jaguar. We are delighted to have them for an interview at Hammarica.com
We saw you perform live at this year’s Decibel Festival. A lot of the times when “live performance” is mentioned in combination with a dance music act, we envision an artist with a laptop and some kind of controller. In your case however – like Carl Craig mentioned at Decibel – you take the whole pro audio department of Guitar Center with you on the road. Can you describe the fun and kick you get from performing live for which you take the headache of transporting this gigantic set-up for granted time after time?
We like do to our live set like we did when we first started producing music, like we do now when we produce music, with hardware. The interaction with machines has always been a huge part of composition process and it continued over when we began playing live. Creating music with hardware is a very unique experience. It really is a tremendous amount of fun. There’s nothing live hearing a synth rip through the speakers and watching the people feel the power! A true moment of synergy.
Could you go into some details as to how a live performance is laid out?
We’re a two person setup. On stage left, there’s myself, Lenny. I have the sound producing things at my end. Analog and digital synths, drum machines, multiple samplers, sequencers, and some effects. The Akai MPC 1000 is the master sequencer that drives everything. It serves as a master clock for the other sequencers and triggers the other units. We use stock equipment and a lot of custom gear. On stage right, Lawrence works the audio mixer with most of the sounds separated on the individual channels. He has several effect units and sound enhancers at his disposal. He’s ultimately responsible for what the audience eventually hears. He adopted his role from his DJ days. He works the individual sounds like he would if he was Djing records, only the sounds are separate. We bring most of our equipment with us, even our own mixer, the Allen & Heath Zed 24. We travel with a little over 100kgs (around 220lbs) in freight, and yes, it sometimes gets expensive to bring all the gear with us.
What is the balance to pre-recorded loops as compared to loops, sounds and arrangements you make on the fly?
We like to work within an arrangement so we have some place to start. Many elements of our tracks will only work one way, so it’s important they are paired together. The goal is to be as flexible as possible. Ultimately, you want to be able to fully interact with the audience and create a unique experience.
Do you encounter technical problems and how do you trouble shoot those with such a big set up?
Technical problems? EVERY show! Things don’t react correctly, sync goes off, equipment overheats, we have to deal with these kind of things all the time. You’re there to play music and you have to work through it. We really know our set up in great detail, so your mind works overtime thinking about what could be going wrong and how you can fix it and keep the show going. It’s really just part of it and you learn to expect it, the unexpected.
Are you classically trained musicians?
We have trained as musicians, but not classically. Our training came mostly from the Detroit Public School system, who, when we were growing up, had a very extensive music program in many schools. We all played in the school band and had bands of our own as we grew up. Individually, we’ve played saxophone, French horn, clarinet, baritone, drums and a number of other things. All five Burden brothers (yep, there are five of us) have been trained on piano.
Do you make recordings of your live performances and can we download and/or buy these online?
We don’t record very many of our live sets because it’s really about the entire experience and not just the audio recording but there are several sets already out there for download. You can get quite a few on our mobile app (Android and Apple IOS)
And here are a few links:
Tell us more about the course of your label 430 West for the coming months.
We have just released our new single “New Life” with vocals by a friend of ours, Afrika. You can get it on Beatport now
What is the secret behind your banging kick drums? In which way do you process these?
Well, it’s just that, a secret! Really it’s a result of 20 years of experimenting with sound. Trying different processes and working out what will fit the best in our mix. We layer samples with analog sounds for the live set. Compress them together and process them as one sound. The samples we use are all original too. It’s a combination of working with many different kinds of drum machines and synths to come up with a sound we liked. We are still working with it. I don’t think we will every stop working on it.
You guys are perfectly in sync with each other during a performance. It seems you don’t have to look at each other to know what you are going to do next. What does it take to get to that level?
We are brothers and have been working together for as long as we can remember. It’s a natural thing. It’s not planned. This is how we work together in the studio. Thats how we know when a track is right. When we can bounce to it naturally.
What is your opinion about performers with laptops as opposed to hardware?
Hardware or laptops, neither make you a good performer. It’s about what makes you feel comfortable. What you know how to rock. There are some folks out there that can rock a laptop like a guitar. Then there are those that make the best hardware set up look like paint drying. Gear does not make the show.
Were there specific challenges you ran into while creating this set up for live gigs? Did you try out various configurations?
There and many. One of the greatest challenges was trying to make live instruments sound as loud as the overly compressed tracks a lot of DJs are playing.
When we first started playing out, we sounded like we were playing through a tin can compared to the DJs around us. We worked very hard searching for light weight and small processors that gave us the sound that we were constantly looking for. We tried tons of things. It took years before we came up with the combination that we liked. It’s still a work in progress. We are always looking for different pieces and combinations that make things better or just more interesting.
If you look at your list of productions you have done so far. Which of those stands out the most to you and why?
Hmm…well with 20+ years of productions, you can imagine their will be a few tracks which make our favorite list. I’ll point out 2 in particular. On both ends of the production scale.
The String mixes of “Blackwater” was a career highlight for us. We worked with the Urban Soul Orchestra at Angel Studios in London. It was quite a grand affair. The production was top end to say the least. Adele records there now I believe. Also the percussion player we worked with was from the old 80’s band Haircut 100. Man could he get down.
The production of “Empower” also comes to mind. We recorded it in the living room of my basement apartment on Jefferson in Detroit. We used a Yamaha FB01, a used EMU Proteus, a cheap compressor Mike Banks had given me, and our Roland TR909 that had dirty volume and tuning pots on the toms. We kept the track on the mixer for days, banging it out, driving my wife crazy. We were newlyweds at the time, but she was used to my life. It was the first time we really had ever used a compressor in almost 6 years of recording at the time. We didn’t know what we were doing. We got the rhythm going on the 909 and started messing with the pots and it started to crunch the sound because the pots were really dirty. At one point we just stopped and said, we have to record this right now! That track could never be duplicated by a laptop production. The flaws in the machine made it what is was. It turned out to be one of our biggest records.
What measures do you take to actively promote yourself, your releases and your career?
If you’re in the music business, you better promote. No sense making some masterpiece recording that no one will ever hear or having some great DJ or live act that no one will ever see because they never heard of it or you. It actually took us years to learn that, about 10 years. In the 90’s you really didn’t need to promote as much, and we didn’t. We would just make a 12″, send it to a few people and sell tons of it. We didn’t really do a lot of marketing because we were all selling about the same about of music and it really didn’t matter. When Lawrence started DJing he got gigs because of all the records we had released, but he did start promoting himself once he got out there. Doing radio and TV shows in Europe, lots of interviews, etc. Now that we’re a band, we got to do more promotion than ever. Not as much as we should, but just enough so people are curious enough to come see us play. We do the social media of course, but only when we have something relevant to say, but we really try and focus our promotion efforts around the release of new music or tours. Fans putting up youtube clips are one of the best things that happen to us. Saw people come to see us because they saw the Awakenings video clip, our Love Parade, or saw us on the Jeff Mills Exhibitionists DVD.
You have an incredible stage presence where you move to every single beat all the time. Are you always able to hype up any crowd?
Thanks very much and no, sometimes you just can’t connect, it happens. Sometimes you’re playing the wrong gig or you just can’t bring everything into sync. No show is perfect, but you learn from everything. These mishaps make us better. You can never say you’re “great”, you always have something you can improve on.
Technology moves very fast in gear land. If you could think of something that’s not on the market today, but in your vision would be really rad.. What would that be?
There are quite a few new things in the works that we can’t wait to try. We’ll be doing beta testing for a few manufacturers at some future shows. There are a few rad things we’d like to see, but we can’t talk about them now, we’re in the stages of making them happen.
Is there a final thing you would like to say to our readers?
Thanks so much for taking a bit of time to read this. You could’ve been doing anything in the world, but you gave us a few moments and we appreciate it. Hope to see you on the dance floor very soon.
Thanks again guys for taking the time for this interview!
Thank you, it was great.